Monday, October 6, 2014

Some thoughts about mental fitness and young people

My 17 year old daughter wrote this for her school mental fitness week which began today. She read this on her school intercom system: 

This week is Mental Fitness week, which for a lot of you probably means the long an arduous process of picking out an outfit to dazzle the entire school with, but for a few of you, it might just mean a lot. Because the fact is that 1 in four people will, at some point, experience a mental health difficulty. This week is about you, and it’s here to remind you that you are most certainly not alone. 

I don’t want to bombard you with facts, so instead I’m gonna do a little speech.

I like speeches.

Sure, by itself, the world is just trees and rocks and clouds, but if there is some magic, it’s in people, as much as I would love Hogwarts to be real. You can either accept that life is an individual experience or a collective ordeal. You’re not wrong, either way, but only together can we make human life worth something. We may not feel inherently valuable, but as countless love stories have told us, we have the potential to mean everything to another person. As J.K. Rowling said, “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

Alone, we might not really feel all that important, but if you add just one person who cares, you become as great and incalculable as the universe itself. Sure, the universe is big, but that’s only because every planet is millions upon millions of miles apart. There are seven billion of us squashed together on one insignificant blue planet floating aimlessly around a tiny star, but just look at the things we have done. Things like Christmas and the Mona Lisa and Mario Kart.

There are times when all of us feel alone, or overwhelmed, or disgusted with ourselves, but that isn’t a reason to become disillusioned with the world. Don’t be sad because your life isn’t as exciting as the books you read or the films you watch, because once you get past the tininess of the community you’re living in, there are millions of things you don’t know about the world. Watch documentaries about planet Earth and see all these things you hadn’t even thought of. Revel in the hours of fun children manage to have with the ketchup packets in restaurants. What it that even about?

There are so many things to be amazed by, so many books you’ll leave unread if you give up this stupid huge, tiny world

No matter how bad things are right now, remember that everything is temporary, and that you have the strength to be more than what you’ve done so far. You can be the things that you will do, the promises you make to yourself.

Maybe you’ll paint a masterpiece, or write a classic. Maybe you’ll write a song they’ll sing in a thousand years, or maybe you’ll discover something that will save lives. Maybe you’ll do nothing but love and be loved. The point is, unless you keep beating on, you’ll never know.

This week is for you, a little reminder that there are people who can help, and a world that aside from all its flaws is pretty cool and worth paying attention to.

Emma Tobin 

Age 17 

Read out on school intercom system for mental fitness week 6 October 2014 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hearing the 'R' word for the first time

At times during my treatment for Multiple Myeloma (cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow), I wondered if I would live to see my next birthday, never mind living to hear the 'R' word (Remission) but here I am on Friday 26 September 2014 celebrating seven years of remission.

It's a feeling of indescribable joy really to still be here and to be mostly fighting fit. 

I was reading through my 2007 journal last night and this is what was happening seven years ago:

Wednesday 26 September 2007

A couple of weeks earlier I had a bone marrow biopsy (ouch) to see if my stem cell transplant had worked and to see if the myeloma was gone. I attended the haematology day ward in Tallagh hospital for results. This diary entry was written at the end of that day seven years ago.

I can't describe how in bits I was this morning. I was wide awake at 5.30am walking around the house, pacing up and down. Sleep didn't come to easily last night either. I got very emotional with the kids this morning - I know they didn't really understand why. I was uptight, nervous and it was very difficult to speak any words that made sense.

I had decided to go to the hospital by myself and I know my family members weren't that happy but that's the way I decided to do it today. If it was bad news I would have time to absorb it myself before I had to break the news to anyone else. People knew I was getting my results today so my phone was hopping with texts all morning with good wishes and offers of prayers.

I dropped the kids to school and delayed a bit chatting to people - all the time prolonging the journey to Tallaght Hospital.

When I got to the hospital I had to have my regular bloods done so I headed straight to phlebotomy. Then it was up to haematology. I had a fair idea that some of the nurses knew my results but they couldn't say anything. I had to hear whatever the news was from my consultant Dr Slaby.

In fairness they all knew how nervous I was and they got me into a side room to wait for Dr Slaby almost as soon as they saw me. He arrived and was a bit concerned about the cough I have. I was sitting beside him and I could see the computer screen. I was afraid to look at it as he pulled up my results. My left hand was shaking so much that I had to sit on it to stop it. I glanced at him and then glanced at the screen and lots of numbers and words blurred in front of me but then I thought I saw the words 'no myeloma present in the bone marrow sample'. I thought I was seeing things so I closed my eyes and then he said the words: "We've done it. The Myeloma is gone'. I punched the air with both fists. I wanted to scream the place down but I somehow composed myself. I don't know how or why.

I honestly didn't hear a word he said to me after that - something about maintenance treatment. Then he realised I wasn't hearing him and he said - that's for another day. He said he was concerned about my cough so he insisted I hang around for an Xray. I was bursting to get out of the office and he eventually said that's it and we shook hands.

I ran out into the day ward and ran straight into one of the nurses who had taken care of me and I said 'I'm in remission' and she said 'I know' with a huge smile on her face. She hugged me and realised how badly I was shaking from shock so she put me into a side office and told me to dial 9 for a line out and not to come out or attempt to leave the hospital until I was a bit more settled. She said well done and left with a huge smile on her face.

Pic of me taken in Autumn 2013 

I dialled 9 and called my hubby Bryan but there was no answer. Then I dialled my mother and just as she was about to talk to me I cut her off. I couldn't work my mobile as I was all fingers and thumbs. Bryan rang me back and it was one of the most emotional moments of my life and I could hardly get the words out. I'm in remission I said and started to cry - tears of happiness. He said 'you deserve champagne tonight so that's what we will do'. It was just a moment of amazement I will never forget.

I called other friends and then my work colleagues as I knew people were waiting and there was such joy and love coming at me down the phone lines from family, friends, colleagues. My phone went into overdrive.

I switched the phone off and just sat by myself for a while taking it all in. I did it. I was in remission. All the awfulness, all the suffering and trauma, all the worry - I had done it. I was in remission.

End of diary entry 

I remember leaving the room and meeting the other nurses - they were all thrilled as they had all been willing me to be well. I owe my life to this team of amazing men and women in the day ward in Tallaght. There was no way to ever repay them for giving me my life back but I am determined to try by staying well for as long as I possibly can.

There was such joy in the dayward but we all had to mindful of people around me who were not receiving good news on the day I got my life back. I went off for my Xray and skipped out the door of the hospital. I wanted to stop everyone I met and tell them that I had done it! I am in remission.

I remember heading home down the N7 singing along to the radio. My daughter Emma who was 9 at the time knew that I was getting results on that day. I remember her school bus pulling up and seeing her walking across the green outside our house so I ran over to her and we just stood in the middle of the green hugging after I had told her the news. She was so happy for me.

It was such an incredible moment. At the time I had no idea that my neighbour was watching - she knew I was getting results that day and she dropped in a card later that day telling me that she had stood at her window watching this beautiful moment between mother and daughter unfold before her eyes. She said it was impossible not to cry!

That was seven year's ago today and there have been so many more beautiful moments that have unfolded in my life and I so grateful for every one of them. 

We all take things in our lives for granted - time being one of them.

I've watched my daughter grow into the most wonderful 17 year old girl. 

I've watched my baby boy grow into a charming and witty 10 year old. 

I'm getting to grow older with my hubby of 19 years. 

Time is the thing I find myself most grateful for. It's wonderful. 

Here's to continuing to kick cancer's butt and to savouring time. 



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Sins of the Children by Emma Tobin

The mute, mothball shrieks of children dying under mother’s hands
And the fractal bursts of fractured light that hit
As the world tumbles over itself, leaving vague moments...
Like fingernails between the stones

While we, like disapproving books on dusty shelves
Clasp coffee cups against the precious beating of our hearts
Toss cynicism between one another, each drop of sweat a privilege
Each breath a human right

Stuffed straw mouths and shining hair
Religious freedom weighs more than dead children
Leaving corpses littered like cigarettes
Colours in a twisted dream of heaven

Matchstick ribs jutting, but we stood on the moon
How fragile have we made our one,
short and common life? How easily
our complacency is bought.

And in the dull light of big- mooned skies
Ragged lines of blood stutter down, rough
touches underneath a fluorescent fire. Severed
heads belching, toddlers left for flies.

In empty houses seashells wait for pudgy fingers
now bludgeoned shades of navy blue. And
our tots writhe on the warehouse floor, unable
to comprehend a world without Lego.

These shells will not creak in a gruff wind
Stretched lopsided over an imagined territory
An imagined safety, an imagined,
tender world.

Copyright: Emma Tobin (age 17)
September 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

To Autum and Flu Season

To Autum and Flu Season by Brenda Drumm 

SEASON of mists and mellow flueyness 
Coughs, colds and sore throats 
Conspiring to make me bark and sneeze
  Despite lemsip, paracetamol and dissolvable disprin 
Despite flu jabs, vitamin c and Manuka honey 
Despite old wives' remedies and flat 7up 
    You swell my glands and plump up my nose 
You dry my skin 
And block my bronchial tubes
Make my eyes stream and tear up 
Create mountains of Mucus and swollen nasal membranes  
 Until I think my dripping nose will never cease 
  Oh yes the flu has o'er-brimm'd my clammy cells.  
Who hath not seen this strand of flu coming? 
Where is my immunity? 
 I am drowsy from the fumes of Vicks vapour rub 
Semi unconscious from the odour of Olbas oil 
    You sit and watch my oozings hour by hour. 
Where are the songs of Spring?
Where is our Indian Summer? 
Am I now at the mercy of Autumnal change and Winter weariness? 

Hot water bottle and heat pads to keep me warm 
Ice packs and cold drinks five minutes later 
I'm overheating 
Do I stuff this cold? 
Should I starve my fever? 

Must have lots of fluids
Must eat a little of what I fancy 
Must have Lucozade and multivitamins 
Mustn't have lemsip as well as paracetamol 
Must sleep 

I'm sinking into a duvet day 
Dosed up 
Choked up 
Blocked up 
Chest and nose are whistling 
Not really a lullabye
But I finally
Drift off
Into another season of mist and not so mellow flueyness 

Copyright: Brenda Drumm 
7 September 2014 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Guest post - POEM by 17 year old Emma Tobin

This is my daughter Emma's poem that she wrote for Hopkins Summer School and which no doubt contributed to her winning the overall award. 

One Giant Fuck-Up is Mankind

It was midnight and I lay reeling
Painting myself red.
Wondering why the world felt, suddenly
Like a cage and not a castle.

I have practiced dying all my life
Like a dancer, the poetic pirouette.
I’ll cut so you can’t stitch me up
Horizontal – like the line I crossed

Were puppets meant to cut their own strings?

These razor-bites are questions
I’ve sewn my shaking lips shut
This is my mustered eloquence
Wet stains on toilet paper

Humankind: A Question, posed out of rhyme


When did the light behind our eyes
Morph, meticulously into black and white?
Our morals like soldiers, lined
Neatly, streets stacked with
-Corpses, like hedgegrows

When did it become polite to look away?
When did warzones come back into fashion?
Diplomacy the excuse you cite, credentials
Who said it was neat to build towers on corpses?
Because those are some shaky foundations

When did happiness become a privilege?
When did constellations become stars?
When did it become all we could do
not to slit our life open – little fish?

A kiss would push your breath back in you
But today it is a crime to love
A sin to steal a kiss
Today who we love is a label.

We are the martyrs
We are the clowns
These are our screams
This is our blood
Can you feel it?
Sticky on your hands.


It was midnight
It was morning
I was mourning

For the children with severed hands
For the lovers with electrodes and shaved heads
For the girls with blood on their thighs
For Jesus, who thought we might learn to love

For the ghosts of Mai Lai
For the starved with numbers on their arms
For the healers burned in fear
For the mothers tied to beds

For the victims of justice
For whiskey’s favourite punching bag
For the people who were owned
For those who fell off the buck
When it stopped here

These cuts are questions
This blood, the reply.

Copyright: Emma Tobin 2014

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cancer Demons

Most days I just get on with life - school lunches and school run in the morning, feed the cats, head to work, plan my evenings, prepare for my radio shows, attend meetings, try and get a walk in, collect the kids, make the dinner, do laundry, supervise homework and all the rest of the day to day chores that mums/parents do.

Most days I am so busy that I don't have time to think about having cancer. I don't have time to be thinking about the what ifs or the possibility that I have a shortened life.

Then there are the days when having cancer is all I can think about. Having cancer is the thing that permeates every waking thought and every deep dream while I am sleeping. But it's not so much the having cancer that bothers me or that keeps me awake - it's the thought of living with dying, the thoughts of having to say goodbye to a world that I really had planned to grown old in.

These thoughts are my cancer demons and most days I manage to keep them at bay but sometimes I let them win. I don't mean to...... there are just days when I am feeling low physically or feeling tired and they get the upper hand.

These cancer demons days are spent on the verge of tears. These are the days when I need extra hugs. These are the days when if anyone is particularly nice to me, I might just cry.........These are the days when I start to visualise the end and what it might be like. These are the days when I try to comprehend how my husband and kids are going to manage without me. These are the days when I wonder have I told them and shown them how much they mean to me. These are the days when I wonder have I given enough and done enough to be remembered by them. These are the days when I wonder should I write to them so as they have a card for each of their forthcoming birthdays (just in case). These are the days when I just want to stop and be and savour smells, sounds and sights all around me.

My cancer demons make me fearful about more pain and suffering. I've been there, done that and have the T-shirt! I have courage and faith but treatments are so harsh and have put me into freezeframe in the past. I am strong, but I am not sure I am strong enough to do it again and again and again.....

My cancer demons make me worry about my faith - I do have faith but I worry sometimes that it won't be strong enough to sustain me ........

I have confidence in the medicine and in the fact that there will one day be a cure for myeloma and all forms of cancer.

On these days when the cancer demons are at large, it can be difficult to visualise a future. I feel smothered by the all consuming need and wish to be around for my kids and husband and for myself. I find myself getting jealous of older people and the years that they have had..........The cancer demons make me feel pressure to do all I want to do and to fit in all the things I have not yet achieved.

The cancer demons make me draw a blank sometimes when I try to look at my future.........

Having cancer is a bitch
Having cancer demons is a total bitch

I have waved the cancer demons away for the moment thanks to feeling stronger today. I hope they will stay away for a while and allow me to get busy living rather than focusing on the fact that I might die sooner than I had planned.

Brenda xxxxxx

Monday, June 16, 2014

I have a dream .....

I had to share this - it's a piece from my 17 year old daughter Emma - it moved me so much. The full article will appear in a local magazine but you need to read this: 

"I worry because the world is broken, and no one is trying to fix it.

Is it a little much to say that I have a dream? I have a stupid, hopeless, idealistic dream that one day my children will live in a world where they will not be judged by their music taste, but by their awareness of the world around them. I have a dream that one day the human race will stop languishing in ignorance and realise that the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one. I have a dream that one day I will walk through the streets of my home town without fear, that my gender will not dictate my job prospects or my salary.

I have a dream that the colour of my hair will one day no longer decide whether you think it’s safe to let your children wave at me. I have a dream that one day we will read history books and realise that history is not simply a collection of boring facts, but a guide to the future.

I have a dream that one day we will read our charter of human rights and accept that the fact that children are starving in the world is not simply a means of making our children eat their carrots, but a crisis that we must take every step to solve. One day I hope that the child I see being wheeled around in supermarkets will be equally important and equally loved as every other child in the world." 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow [Excerpt from Diary of a Stem Cell Harvest and Transplant]

Monday 4 June 2007
It's just three days since they harvested my stem cells and just over two weeks since my first liquid chemo - cyclophosphamide - and my hair is really starting to come out. It's so thin now that I really can't go out without something on my head. I don't mind so much. I am undecided about whether to get a wig or not. A wig is just not me! It's not like I present the news or am on TV elsewhere ... I don't need it for cosmetic purposes. I don't think it will make any difference to the kids - well I hope not.

Emma has a photo of me on her bedside locker. She said she wants to remember me with hair! I suppose it is her way of dealing with it. She has been so good with all that we have had to throw at her.

Cathal still won't let me out of his sight after being without me for two weeks. He keeps saying "you are my Mammy. I'm keeping you home.". That's tough to have to hear. I underestimated how all of this would effect him even though he is only 2 and a half.

I love my kids so much and I have great determination to be around for them as long as I can.

Tuesday 5 June 2007
Everyone went off to school and minders this morning. When I was making my bed I could not believe the amount of hair that was on my pillow. It's surreal. I thought I would cry once this process began but I haven't. That doesn't mean that I won't. It's a real in your face symptom of my illness but it is also a positive sign that my treatment is progressing. Bryan doesn't seem to mind whether or not I get a wig. I am lucky that he loves me just the way I am - and just the way I am at any particular time.

I remain undecided about the wig:

"To wig or not to wig
that is the question"

I got out of bed this morning
my hair decided to stay
as I pulled on my top and trousers
it spread itself out in the sun
It was strange leaving the room without it
We're usually inseparable! 

 [apparently I wrote this 'poem' in my journal]

Wednesday 6 June 2007
I was coming to terms nicely with having less and less hair. Then I swear a girl with hir the length and thickness mine used to be was standing outside the house talking to a neighbour. Just at the moment it hit me hard that it's going, going and almost gone. I miss the weight of my hair, the feeling of it as it dries off after I wash it. I miss the smell of the shampoo in my freshly washed hair as it billows around me. I do miss it.

Cathal came over to me this evening and handed me two large clumps of hair, told me to put them on my head and said 'there you go now' before walking away.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Today was a hospital day. Dropped the kids to school and minder and got to Tallaght Hospital early. My line and stitches are really itchy. They cleaned the line (this is the central line in my chest that they used for the stem cell harvest and will use again for the transplant). They removed the stitches too and the relief was wonderful. I have been dying to give them a good old scratch but I somehow resisted.

Blood results were good and they say that I am looking well.
I needed a wrist Xray to use as a marker !!!!!

My hair is still coming out in clumps and I am wearing one of those horrible bandanas that I bought from the wig woman when she came to see me. They have phoned me again asking if I want a wig but I have no answer for them as I am still undecided.

I am getting very close to just cutting what's left of my hair off. I have three comb overs and it's just not a good look!

Friday 8 June 2007
My hair is a disaster. I put my hand to the back of my head today to sort out a tangle and it felt like the whole back of my head came away. It didn't! It was just a huge clump of hair - one of the comb overs! I had a shower and more of my hair came away. I decided it was time. I went into the downstairs bathroom where there is a small mirror and no window. I cut off the comb overs and the last few bits of long hair. Then I used Bryan's head shaver and did a complete once over on my head with my eyes closed. I just couldn't look! Then for good measure I got the dyson hoover and gave my head a once over to get rid of all the last bits. Bet that's not on the instructions and uses for a Dyson!

After it was done I was too scared to look in the mirror. I put my glasses back on and looked up and it was shocking. I almost did myself a neck injury trying to look all the way round to the back. I am an egg head, a baldie.

I left the bathroom after what felt like ages. I was even afraid to let the cats see me in case I scared them. They didn't move a whisker. I walked around the house for a while - BALD. It felt strangely liberating to be free of the clumps and the comb overs.

Not sure how the gang will react but I will cross that bridge later.

[This is transcribed from my diary as I wrote it in June 2007 when I was dealing with all the fall out from being diagnosed with Myeloma - a cancer of the plasma cells of the bone marrow. I have not edited this or changed anything.]

 A few year's after my treatment I was inspired to write a short story based on my hair loss experience called 'Well if Sinead O'Connor can live with it'. You can hear me read the story on my Audioboo account at the link below:

PS My hair grew back really quickly and is as long and thick as it ever was!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Excerpt from Diary of a Stem Cell Harvest - No Editing, No Filter!

This time seven year's ago I was in the middle of a two-week process of harvesting my own stem cells. I was reminded of this yesterday at a talk I was giving on Lough Derg about living with cancer.

I thought I would share two actual diary entries that I wrote as I was going through the stem cell harvest process on 23 and 24 May 2007. This is exactly as I wrote them in my journal - no editing and no filter:

Wednesday 23 May 2007 DAY 3

1.30am, the early hours of this morning the awful nausea turned into actual vomiting - gut wrenching vomiting. I was attached to the IV fluids so by the time I realised what was happening I only had time to unplug it and make it to the sink in the room and not the bathroom. Eugh
It brought back memories of the awfulness of the sickness I had last December. I was dripping with sweat and my new surgically inserted line started to ooze - so painful. What a horrible feeling.
I did manage to get back to sleep but I had a lot of pain and was generally very miserable.
When I saw the doc early this morning he said he would write me up for some strong anti-sickness meds. Liz came down and she was unhappy that I was allowed to be so sick so she got onto it too.
I threw up again at 3pm - really bad, really painful - it was my own fault. I should not have drank a can of LILT - but I was so raw and thirsty.
I decided to walk down to the shop and was asked by one of the nurses to get a paper for the man in the room across from me - JOB done, after a tentative walk......
I had a visit from a medical student who had to assess me. He asked me at the end if I was a doctor or worked in medicine - Ha ha! Doctor's coat anyone?
PS Cyclizine drug is my new best friend - no more sickness today.

Thursday 24 May 2007 DAY 4

NEW SERIES OF GREY'S ANATOMY TONIGHT  (for some reason I have that written on the top of the page - no idea why)

I woke up with this morning with a great sense of relief. I slept well apart from couple of trips in the night - false alarms. I wasn't sick so the new anti sickness drug is working. Cyclizine is working - what a relief. I have to remember to get scripted for this in advance of the next set of chemo. NOTE TO SELF WRITTEN

I had jelly and ice cream for lunch. I couldn't eat anything else. I did the scene from Jurassic Park with the jelly shuddering and shivering on the spoon in the girl's hand. Screen test anyone?

The nurses and doctors are lovely. They are so caring especially when they see how miserable you are. They just can't do enough for me. I have nothing but respect and admiration for them.

Saw Dr Enright - she is happy with me and my response.

Emma came up (that's my daughter who was 9 at the time) and I know she misses me. She is full of questions about my line in my chest and the meds I am on and constant fluids. She is such a gorgeous girl. Bryan said I appear to me much better, more relaxed about my time in hospital this time round. I guess I am more relaxed as I had notice that I was going to be admitted and had read up on all that was going to happen so I was able to plan.

Friday 25 May 2007 DAY 5

Another good night last night. I think I was up twice for two more false sickness alarms. Very vivid dreams. Bryan was telling me that Cathal has learned how to climb up and into his cot so I guess that now means he can climb out too! Oh O!

I am in good form today. I asked the doctors about getting out for day release and he has to check with the consultant. I doubt she will say yes. I am still on the anti sickness drugs and am scared what will happen if I come off them. I am now on the other injections into my stomach for helping to mobilise my stem cells.

My Mum told me that Emma sat Cathal down and was explaining to him that I now have a line sticking out of my chest and telling him he can't touch it and needs to be careful and gentle. He said I will be careful and I won't pull it. I am aching to see him.

I had a great chat with Emma tonight. She is just adorable and I hope that I am and can always be the mother she deserves.

I am so excited - just found out I am allowed out for a few hours tomorrow.

Cathal phoned with the help of Bryan at about 9.30 tonight and said: "Where are you Mammy? I miss you." I thought my heart would break. Then he said "Love you Mammy".

Are there any nicer words to hear from your child?

Signing off for the night.


I kept a journal faithfully during my year of sickness and I am hoping to publish it soon as a book called LIFE FINDS A WAY.

Follow me on Twitter @BrendaDrumm

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Being a Teenager

This is a guest post by my 17 year old daughter Emma 

"Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry."

– J.D Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye)

When I stepped over the precipice of innocence into adolescence, into the supposedly terrific and terrifying teenage years, during which (if one believes ‘Little MissSunshineI was to acquire all the suffering that would shape whoever I turned out to be, I had certain preconceptions that have proven mostly, wildly inaccurate.

Firstly, I believed that I would become cool. If anything, I have become less cool, enmeshed in the claws of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek and Doctor Who. Secondly, I believed that I would become corrosive and irrational. Instead, I maintain fluid diplomatic relations with my family. Thirdly, I believed that by the end of it I would know precisely who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. Of all my widely inaccurate expectations, that was pretty high on the delusional scale.

At some point in the past two years, I reached the terrifying conclusion that I have one life; one chance to do everything right, and it was absolutely terrifying. My teenage years haven’t given me one iota of wisdom about myself. I could tell you about the Cold War and The Beats Generation of artists and writers in New York City, but when I’m asked to say two things about myself I am rendered uncharacteristically speechless. I think that most people my age feel more or less the same way, and while it’s comforting not to be utterly alone, it doesn’t exactly help.

I believe that there’s a myth about adolescence as being uncoordinated and illiterate when it is anything but that. It’s during these years that we must make the choices that determine the rest of our lives, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on sixteen-year old shoulders. It’s a swirly whirly vortex of different ideas. We struggle with religion, with consensus, with sexuality, with the very foundations of our moral system, and yet at the same time we’re expected to learn things about maths and geography.

I’ve catapulted between cynicism and idealism and then challenged the basis of these categorisations; I’ve changed my mind about what I believe in dozens of times. I’ve wondered about God and been more than a little horrified by the crimesof those who came before me. I’ve read a thousand books; I’ve thought a thousand different and contradictory things. Honestly, I feel like an old woman already.

I’ve also memorised Pythagoras’s Theorem, learned how to motivate imaginary employees, and sat bewildered by the difference between diverging and converging plate boundaries. I am a person constantly in flux, but while I’m at it why shouldn’t I decide what to do with the rest of my one single precious life?

Being a teenager is hard. It’s one of the most difficult thingyou’ll ever go through. It’s so hard that some people don’t make it to the other side. All the same, it’s a brilliant time. It’s like when you’re on a rollercoaster and you’re slowly edging up to this massive height and your stomach is sick, you feel like you’re going to fall out and smash into a million pieces as people look on while eating peanuts and candyfloss. But, once you get to the top there’s a relieved, exhilarated sort of excitement slamming your heart against your chest. In the end, the triumph of reaching that giddy height is worth the slow and painful ascent.

I suppose that being young is simultaneously the worst and best fate imaginable. You’ll look back with nostalgia to your legging-wearing, Adidas-sporting days, but there isn’t enough money in the Western economy to persuade you to do it over. You’ll be terrified that, no matter how badly you did it the first time around, you might mess everything up even more spectacularly if given a second chance.

Even if I don’t reckon I’ll ever settle definitively on the one thing I want to spend my life doing, by the end of my teenage years I think I’ll have an idea, a murky inkling I can somehow grope my way to. It isn’t anything as concrete as a career name, but a dim sense of something indescribable. I think that one day I’ll take a blind step down the road of my life and it’ll feel like I’m finally headed in the right direction. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.


Copyright:  Emma Tobin 

April 2014 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Discovering my old life in Ballybay, Co Monaghan via Facebook

I don't know if you ever check the OTHERS option on your Facebook messages. I don't check it that often but did so today at lunchtime and I found a message there from a girl I have not been in touch with for 35 years.

Her name is Maria Cosgrove and she is from Ballybay - a small town in Co Monaghan. I used to live there with my family until we moved away in 1978 after my dad, the local Garda, was transferred, as was the custom in those days.

We had great friends in Ballybay. I started primary school there. We had a gang called The Hall Street Gang. We had adventures like those kids in The Goonies, or the Famous Five or Secret Seven had. The Hall Street Gang was the gang of kids who lived in a cluster along Hall Street. We met in the lanes and the fields and sometimes in the Garda shed.

The Drumms, Maguires, McMahons and the McItaveys were the main members of the Hall Street Gang (I hope I am remembering the names correctly).

A photo taken sometime in the mid seventies, captures us in colour, outside the Garda Station which was really in our front garden, underneath the three big Cherry Blossom trees that adorned the grass verge on the way up to the door of the station.

There was no email, text, Facebook or Twitter in those days and the house we moved to did not have a phone. I recall a lot of tears the day we left as we hugged and promised to keep in touch and I do remember a few visits back for different things. Some of our friends from Ballybay also came to visit us too in our new home.

But time passed and we grew up in a brand new town and made new friends. We sadly lost contact with our friends from Ballybay.

But I have never forgotten Ballybay and the gang of friends we had. I remember happy times in the house we had behind the Garda station. I remember being outdoors in all weather, getting lost in the fields on purpose, collecting blackberries and selling them to local shops - sometimes the money went to the nuns in the Convent of Mercy and other times it went to buy sweets for the gang.

I remember plays we used to stage in the garden and in the Garda shed. We would charge people 10p to come and watch a variety show which was never very good, but which people (well other children) came to watch.

I remember Community Games in the big park. Relays, hurdles and my breath being almost taken away with the exertion.

I remember the teachers we had and moving from the small school to the brand new purpose-built school with the new carpets, the new desks and chairs that were proper chairs and not old benches with ink wells.

I remember Sister Philomena, who was small and gentle but very capable of keeping things moving. I remember a few year's ago learning of her murder and trying to understand how something so awful could happen to someone so gentle.

I remember swinging and balancing on the bars and railings and my sister breaking her arm. I remember being run over by my Dad's car in the school yard and all the visitors to the house who I bet could scarcely believe I had survived - what 4 year old survives being knocked down, trapped under a car and driven around a tough tarmac school yard ? I remember our postman and Miss Salmon chasing the car and shouting STOP before it pulled out onto the main road.

I remember swinging on the gate and getting that little scar under my lip when the gate slammed shut. I remember walking the walls on the way up home.

I remember the embankment at the back of the corner shop where we disturbed a wasps nest and where my sister was stung several times. I remember the smell of vinegar on the stings.

I was part of an Irish dancing troupe in Ballybay. The costume was cream with purple Celtic designs. For the life of me I can't remember the name of the Irish dancing school. I remember my dancing partners Damian and Catriona Carragher. We were a great group for the three-hand reel.

I do remember the sweet shop at the top of Hall Street, conveniently located on our route to school. The shopkeeper Mrs Daly always seemed old to me in those days. She had a counter with a glass front filled with trays of sweets. Depending on how much (or little in my case) money you had, you asked for the corresponding tray and knew that everything on it could be bought for halfpenny, a penny, two pence or five pence. I am not sure if there was a ten pence tray. Katie Daly was her name and through my conversations and subsequent connection with a Facebook page called BALLYBAY AND ITS PEOPLE, I found out that she is alive and well and in her 90s. How I would love to sit down with her for a chat.

I have been hanging out on this Facebook page for the past few days and I shared this picture taken as I mentioned earlier, in our front lawn adjacent to the Garda Station.

The Hall Street Gang sometime in the 1970s

Since posting the picture I have chatted to three of the people in it. I have not spoken to them since we left Ballybay in 1978. 35 year's later and it's all come back to life through the power of social media. It's been great.

I am looking forward to having more memories refreshed by these new old friends from Ballybay. So do check that OTHERS folder on Facebook and if you are ever in the area do give Ballybay a visit.

It seems it has always been the place where everybody knows your name!

Monday, February 10, 2014


I watch you through the window of my soul 

Angel of nameless grace

Through the twisted tangle of my heart
I will wait for you beyond

Summer fingers dapple on my shuddering shoulders 

The lines that time has forgotten
Leaves whisper your voice into my ears as I cling
To the chandelier of my life

I am as a changing day, wanting in all aspects
But that of blissful hope
The burst of cherries on the tongue of a waking hour 

When I will sleep
Spread out on a bed of clouds, staring
Across the spaces
As my body spills onto the world below
And I am nought but rain or snow
Forgotten words on aging lips, a memory of a day Full of hope and raining death. 

Emma Tobin 2013 

Copyright @ Emma Tobin 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year Resolutions

I don't do New Year Resolutions at all. Instead I make wishes. I used to make these wishes quietly to myself and then last year someone introduced the idea of writing the wishes onto Chinese Lanterns and sending them skywards. 

I attempted to do that last year but the rain and wind saw to it that the lanterns and my wishes never left the ground. 

My wishes were: 
1. To be loved
2. To stay Myeloma free 
3. To be published 
4. To make my first radio documentary 

The two most important ones were granted (1 and 2) and I am grateful to be starting 2014 having celebrated another year being cancer free and having celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. 

Wishes 3 and 4 are still under development and the ball is firmly in my court on those.

This year's wishes are:
1. To stay myeloma free 
2. To have a year of health and happiness in our home 
3. To stay employed 
4. To rekindle old friendships and not allow myself to be taken for a ride by people masquerading as "friends" 
5. Wishes (3 and 4) from last year

So here's to a year of dreams and wishes coming true for me and anyone reading this.